How to Make the “Greatest Weakness” Question a Strength

SupermanToo often, a job interview includes annoying interview questions… and none is worse, or more common, than:

What’s your greatest weakness?

So, since some form of the greatest weakness question will likely be aimed your way as you sit in the interview hot seat, you should be more than prepared to make this odd question a bona fide strength.

As a recruiter, when I use greatest weakness question (and others like that) I know there’s not any one absolutely right answer. I, and other recruiters, ask this question for one reason: It helps me see how a person will react, even when confronted by the obvious. You can learn a lot about a person as they answer seemingly simple questions.

In fact, I was interviewing someone the other day. After only a few minutes, I knew he was probably going to get a second interview. But it’s my job to dig deeper; to look for things that need to be explored in the next round. In addition, if I pretty much know they’re moving on, I like to give people practice for the next interview. So in this case, I went to some of those standard interview questions, including the “greatest weakness?” one.

Much to my surprise, this guy started to answer without any subterfuge and without the typical “I know this is one of those trick questions” tone of voice!

But then my interviewee kept going… and going… and going.

He was trying to give me the most thorough and honest answer ever, I think – including several examples of how sometimes he gets caught up in the tiny details of a problem… almost to the point of obsessing. I actually got nervous for him. I wanted to interupt. I wanted to say: “Don’t tell me too much!”

I’ll give you the same advice: when you get a question like this, just know that it’s ok to stop at the summary of the weakness like “I can get caught up in the details sometimes.” But then your follow-up should be something like: “I’m aware of this now, of course, and have been learning how to balance being thorough with getting my work done in a timely manner.” other things you have to get done.

One more piece of advice once your well into the “greatest weakness” game:

Have a great real life story to back up whichever weakness you chose to frame in your answer! An example would be if you had a fear of public speaking, worked on that fear, and wound up becoming a lecturer. Note the positive thought at the end so the recruiter sees the happy ending?

Let’s be honest. Most recruiters just throw in these silly questions to fill out the interview anyway. We get a good idea within the first few minutes of interviewing a person whether this is someone you want to seriously consider. And no interviewer is really looking to get you to reveal some deep dark weakness like “I steal office supplies” or “I’ve lied all over my resume and hope you don’t find out.”

So to summarize my greatest weakness interview question tips:

  • Keep it short
  • Leave with a positive thought
  • Shut up until you hear the next question

Oh…and in case you’re wondering, the guy I interviewed has super skills and gave a good second interview, so he’s moving on to the final interview. But in the interim, an anonymous someone clued him in about how to answer the dreaded weakness interview question – just in case.

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at WorkCoachCafe!




About the Author: Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.



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